Setting the PHP version in .htaccess on Apache web servers

The default PHP version on my outdoors, travel and photography website is 5.2.17 and that is getting on a bit now since it is no longer supported by the PHP project and has not been thus since 2011. One obvious impact was Piwik, which I used for web analytics and needs at least 5.3.2. WordPress 4.0 even needs 5.2.24 so that upgrade became implausible so i contacted Webfusion’s support team and they showed me how to get to at least 5.3.3 and even as far as 5.5.9. The trick is the addition of a line of code to the .htaccess file (near the top was my choice) like one of the following:

PHP 5.3.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php53 .php

PHP 5.5.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php55 .php

When I got one of these in place, things started to look promising but for a locked database due to my not watching how big it had got. Replacing it with two additional databases addressed the problem of losing write access though there was a little upheaval caused by this. Using PHP 5.5.9 meant that I spotted messages regarding the deprecation of the mysql_connect function so that needed fixing too (prefixing it with @ might be a temporary fix but a more permanent one always is better so that is what I did in the form of piggybacking off what WordPress uses; MySQLi and PDO_MySQL are other options). Sorting the database issue meant that I saw the upgrade message for WordPress as well as a mix of plugins and themes so all looked better and I need worry less about losing security updates. Also, I am up to the latest version of Piwik too and that’s an even better way to be.

A first look at SAS University Edition

My first introduction to SAS came near the start of my post-university career over a decade ago. It was six weeks of classroom training and hands-on case studies that got me going with SAS 6.12. The included SAS products naturally included the components of Base SAS for data processing (data step, PROC SQL) and reporting as well as SAS/Graph. All of that was enough for a placement with one of my then employer’s clients with the added advantage of becoming one of the client’s own employees at the end of it. During that stay, more SAS versions followed until the launch of 9.1.3. Eventually, I moved onto pastures new and I remain a SAS user with 9.3 being the most recent version that I have met at work while SAS University Edition is bringing me towards 9.4.

SAS Learning Edition

Though it is possible to extend one’s knowledge on the job, that can be harder to manage during the working day when times are busy. Before SAS University Edition, we had SAS Learning Edition and I took delivery of a copy while it was available. It included SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 together with a limited version of SAS 9 that a few limitations. Firstly it only would process up to 1500 records in any dataset but that was not such a problem for learning. Support from SAS was limited too even if the package had a price that I seem to remember was around £100 but my memory is hazy about this. What you need to remember is that SAS licenses are vastly more expensive than this so you got that for which you have paid. If you did have a Base SAS installation, Learning Edition would co-exist with it and versions like 8.2 and 9.1.3 Service Pack 4 were compatible so long as you had them pre-installed. There was a warning that re-installation of software might be required if either SAS Learning Edition or Base SAS is removed inappropriately.

Speaking of licenses, Learning Edition was time limited with its own version 2.0 (based on Enterprise Guide 2.0 and, if I recall correctly, SAS 8.2) and version 4.1 purchased prior to September 10, 2007 expiring on December 31, 2008. The expiry date for version 4.1 after the aforementioned purchase deadline was December 31, 2011. More conventionally, it was for single PC installation only and that PC had to run either Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. The process was one that would be more than familiar to anyone who ever installed software on a machine running Windows. Even with those older operating systems, it needed 1,080 MB of hard disk space. It reminds me of a time when 10 GB of hard drive capacity was generous but that had moved beyond 160 GB around ten years ago. The RAM requirements also fitted the time with 256 MB being the bare minimum and 512 MB being recommended.

Usefully, the whole package came with a copy of The Little SAS Book and, not having it next to me while writing these words, I cannot recall whether whether it was the version for Enterprise Guide or the Primer edition. Though I may not have made as much use of the software as I could have done, it certainly came in useful for trying a few things and I found a way to start up the more traditional SAS DMS interface as well as Enterprise Guide.

SAS University Edition

Apart for being made available free of charge, SAS University Edition is very different from its predecessor, SAS Learning Edition. After all, things have moved along since the last decade and SAS has its SAS Analytics U (for University, I presume) community now and that may explain the name though there is a wider focus on established university teaching too. Even long term SAS users like me can be called learners too so we get allowed in as well.

Firstly, it works in a very different way since you no longer are installing SAS software like you would with Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. To work, it needs you to have one of Oracle VirtualBox (4.3.12 is preferred at the time of writing), VMware Player or VMware Fusion because what you are getting is a virtual machine. For those unfamiliar with such things, SAS has Quick Start guides for each:

VirtualBox

VMware Player

VMware Fusion

The available VM’s are built around Linux in that 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux is installed in there with SAS running as a service on top of it. In fact, the virtual runs solely as a server with just a screen informing you of the IP address that you need to load in your web browser of choice. That reveals another break with the past with SAS Studio being used in place of Enterprise Guide or the SAS DMS. While all the processing happens within the virtual machine, it is possible to store files on your own host operating system’s file system using by setting up a shared folder called myfolders that points to where you want it and that SAS Studio can use.

The use of virtualisation to roll out a local SAS server that makes SAS Studio available is neat and means that you do not need to run Microsoft Windows on a PC as was the case with SAS Learning Edition. Mac OS X and Linux are possibilities and I use the latter at home so this is a very good thing. Furthermore, there are installation guide for each supported operating system:

Linux

OS X

OS X

The version of SAS that you get is 9.4 and it is licensed until the middle of June 2015 with a 45 day grace period taking you as far as the end of July. Along with Base SAS, you also get SAS/STAT, SAS/IML, SAS/Secure 168-bit, SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files, SAS/ACCESS Interface to ODBC, SAS/IML Studio, SAS Workspace Server for Local Access, SAS Workspace Server for Enterprise Access and High Performance Suite. SAS/Graph is absent but new statistical graphics procedures like SGPLOT and SGPANEL are there so graph creation possibilities should be covered anyway.

All in all, SAS University Edition looks a snazzy arrangement and I plan to explore what is offered. SAS Studio is a new to me but there are enough recognisable features to help me settle in with it and it would merit an entry of its own on here. In fact, SAS has some video tutorials on their YouTube channel that show off some of its capabilities and the new tool certainly carries over from both Enterprise Guide and the more traditional DMS interface.

Speaking of blogging, SAS has an entry on one of the theirs that it has called Free SAS Software for students!, which is another introduction to SAS University Edition. Other (non-blog) articles include Get Started With SAS® University Edition along with a useful FAQ.

Self-hosted web analytics tracking

It amazes me now to think how little tracking I used to do on my various web “experiments” only a few short years ago. However, there was a time when a mere web counter, perhaps displayed on web pages themselves, was enough to yield some level of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction in many a case. Things have come a long way since then and we now seem to have analytics packages all around us. In fact, we don’t even have to dig into our pockets to get our hands on the means to peruse this sort of information either.

At this point, I need to admit that I am known to make use of a few simultaneously but thoughts about reducing their number are coming to mind but there’ll be more on that later. Given that this site is hosted using WordPress software, it should come as no surprise that Automattic’s own plugin has been set into action to see how things are going. The main focus is on the total number of visits by day, week and month with a breakdown showing what pages are doing well as well as an indication of how people came to the site and what links they followed while there. Don’t go expecting details of your visitors like the software that they are using and the country where they are accessing the site with this minimalist option and satisfaction should head your way.

There is next to no way of discussing the subject of website analytics without mentioning Google’s comprehensive offering in the area. You have to admit that it’s comprehensive with perhaps the only bugbear being the lack of live tracking. That need has been addressed very effectively by Woopra, even if its WordPress plugin will not work with IE6. Otherwise, you need the desktop application (being written in Java, it’s a cross-platform affair and I have had it going in both Windows and Linux) but that works well too. Apart maybe from the lack of campaigns, Woopra supplies as good as all of the information that its main competitor provides. It certainly doe what I would need from it.

However, while they can be free as in beer, there are a some costs associated with using using external services like Google Analytics and Woopra. Their means of tracking your web pages for you is by executing a piece of JavaScript that needs to be added to every page. If you have everything set to use a common header or footer page, that shouldn’t be too laborious and there are plugins for publishing platforms like WordPress too. This way of working means that if anyone has JavaScript disabled or decides not to enable JavaScript for the requisite hosts while using the NoScript extension with Firefox, then your numbers are scuppered. Saying that, the same concerns probably any JavaScript code that you may want to execute but there’s another cost again: the calls to external websites can, even with the best attention in the world, slow down the loading of your own pages. Not only is additional JavaScript being run but there also is the latency caused by servers having to communicate across the web.

A self-hosted analytics package would avoid the latter and I found one recently through Lifehacker. Amazingly, it has been around for a while and I hadn’t known about it but I can’t say that I was actively looking for it either. Piwik, formerly known as PHPMyVisites, is the name of my discovery and it seems not too immature either. In fact, I’d venture that it does next to everything that Google Analytics does. While I’d prefer that it used PHP, JavaScript is its means of tracking web pages too. Nevertheless, page loading is still faster than with Google Analytics and/or Woopra and Firefox/NoScript users would only have to allow JavaScript for one site too. If you have had experience with installing PHP/MySQL powered publishing platforms like WordPress, Textpattern and such like, then putting Piwik in place is no ordeal. You may find yourself changing folder access but uploading of the required files, the specification of database credentials and adding an administration user is all fairly standard stuff. I have the thing tracking this edifice as well as my outdoor activities (hillwalking/cycling/photography) web presence and I cannot say that I have any complaints so we’ll see how it goes from here.

An alternative use for Woopra

Google Analytics is all very fine with its once a day reporting cycle but the availability of real time data dose have its advantages. WordPress.com’s Stats plugin goes some way to serving the need but Woopra trumps it in every way apart from a possible overkill in the amount of information that it makes available. The software may be in the beta phase and it does crash from time to time but its usefulness remains more than apparent.

One of its uses is seeing if there are people visiting your website at a time when you might be thinking of making a change like upgrading WordPress. Timing such activities to avoid a clash is a win-win situation: a better experience from your visitors and more reliable updates for you. After all, it’s very easy to make a poor impression and an unreliable site will do that faster than anything else so it’s paramount that your visitors do not get on the receiving end of updates, even if they are all for the better.

Want attention? Just mention Ubuntu…

According to Google Analytics, visitor numbers for this blog hit their highest level one day last week. I suspect that I might have been down to a mention of two of my posts on tuxmachines.org. Thanks guys. Feedburner activity has been strong too.

That brings me to another thought: the web seems a good place for Ubuntu users to find find solutions to problems that they might encounter. I certainly found recipes that resolved issues that I was having: scanner set up and using another hard drive to host my home directory, all very useful stuff. When I last played with Linux to the same extent that I am now doing, the web was still a resource but it wouldn’t have been as helpful as I found it recently. I suppose that there are people like me posting tips and tricks for computing on blogs and that makes them easier to find. That’s no bad thing and I hope that it continues. Saying that, I might still get my mits on an Ubuntu book yet…